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Nigeria’s Manufacturing Power Couple On The Future Of Manufacturing In Nigeria

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Chief Razak Okoya: Chairman Eleganza Group And Rao Property Investment Company

Chief Razak Okoya is an industrialist who has managed to transform a small trading company into one of the largest conglomerates and indigenous manufacturers of household products in Nigeria.

As founder of Eleganza Group and leading property investment company RAO Property, he employs about 5000 people across Nigeria. In his interview with Forbes Africa, he discusses the trends that will influence the competitive Nigerian Manufacturing sector in the next decade.

Chief Folashade Noimat Okoya: Managing Director, Eleganza Industrial City

Chief Mrs. Folashade Okoya has been at the helm of affairs of the Eleganza Group and RAO Property Investment for the past decade using her strong entrepreneurial drive to further strengthen the goodwill of both organizations and its corporate positioning in Nigeria.

Under her watch, Eleganza Group has risen to new heights strengthening its position as a leading indigenous brand in Nigeria as well as one of the benchmark manufacturing companies in the country.

She talks about the stigma of women in manufacturing and the need for greater automation in the manufacturing process in Nigeria.

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The Laws Of Impactful Banking

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Human rights icons such as Albie Sachs and Dulla Omar shaped the early career choices of Yasmin Masithela, the Managing Executive of Transactional Banking at Absa Corporate and Investment Banking. These human rights lawyers inspired her to pursue a career in law spurred by hope to have impact on the South African society.

Masithela chose Corporate Law and after graduating and went into private practice with Webber Wentzel Attorneys and later an Associate at Siemens in the Project and Export Finance Division. The lure of being able to self-determine would soon become great, and Masithela joined forces with professional friends to form their own law practice.

She became a founding partner at Phukubje Pierce & Masithela Attorneys, where among other roles, Masithela was Head of Mergers, Acquisitions and Project Finance.  The young and aspiring firm was idyllic and passionate about making a difference, but collectively they had little experience as entrepreneurs at the time.

READ MORE | The Evolution Of Compliance In The Banking Sector

The fine balance between survival and aspiration that most entrepreneurs struggle with quickly became their reality, topped off with the common start-up challenge of having to wear multiple hats and struggling to break through in a traditional professional services industry.

“At the time we were idealistic – all we wanted to do was support our clients to protect their businesses and to grow,” she says, “only to find ourselves bogged down in multiple other mundane tasks and responsibilities necessary to keep the lights on. It was a constant roller coaster of highs and lows, feast and famine. I learned a lot that is permanently emblazoned in my mind – small business owners need a more supportive tax regime and help with managing cash flow and establishing structure that allows them to be viable.”

Masithela took the difficult decision to leave the partnership and go back into the corporate space. Some of her partners chose to stay in the business and they have fared very well.

Masithela’s stint as a free agent was short lived – she subsequently entered the corporate sector again and joined Absa in 2011. At Absa, she rose through the executive ranks, occupying various key roles as General Counsel and Head of Compliance for the Wealth, Investment Management and Insurance business before her appointment to the Absa’s Group Executive Committee as the Chief Compliance Officer in 2014.

READ MORE | People And Culture In The Workplace

In 2018 she took on an expanded role as the Chief Executive for Group Strategic Services – a portfolio that drove the group’s strategy including digital strategy, as well as the Human Resources and Culture agenda of the enterprise. The role allowed Masithela to play a key role in embedding the group’s new strategy and a renewed focus on its corporate culture under the new brand.

In March 2019 she took on a new challenge to run a substantial P&L as the Managing Executive for Transactional Banking within Absa’s Corporate and Investment Bank (CIB) business.

Masithela admits the transition from a specialist lawyer to a “generalist leader” is never an easy one, but emphasizes that this is what enterprise leadership requires – specialists who turn into generalists, with the ability to translate the vision of the group and lead many colleagues and other specialists into executing and delivering the vision. That said, generalists still must know enough about all facets of their business in order to run the business.

“I think analytical skills and system thinking is a natural by-product of being trained in Law, and in a large way eased my journey. There is also a lot to be said about leaning into opportunity, owning your seat at the table and being very deliberate about it,” she says.

She relishes the opportunity to provide strategic input and support to the overall Absa CIB business under the leadership of Chief Executive Charles Russon. “CIB’s strategy is grounded on growing primacy, which has a large dependency on the business I am responsible for,” Masithela explains.

“Transformation and Innovation are also critical for the bank as both our corporate and retail customers rapidly adopt digital technology. I am fascinated by and focused on our digital strategy, and with keeping up with global trends in corporate banking. We see a big transition for our industry to being customer-led and I am excited about the role I can play in this space within the CIB footprint and across the continent,” she says.

Like many in the industry, Masithela is concerned about the current tough economic environment in South Africa which is the bank’s largest market. There are strong economic headwinds across the African continent in the markets where Absa operates, but she sees opportunities even in this uncertain environment, by focusing on customer centricity using what she describes as “a clear pragmatic, service oriented approach” to drive growth in Transactional Banking.

 “Transactional banking is about transforming our client’s business through products and platforms of the bank that interact seamlessly with their business in order to help them operate with flexibility across their value chains, and to grow. That is Absa’s strength. Our strong presence across the continent helps facilitate the growth ambition of many of our clients, and indeed we often even help ignite those ambitions in some cases,” Masithela says.

Outside of work, the proud mother of three says time spent with her children grounds her and is a deep sense of comfort. Masithela enjoys other personal pursuits such as long-distance running, swimming and reading.

“When we were growing up, my parents kept the entire series of Encyclopaedia Britannica proudly displayed in the living room – that was our google back then. We were not allowed to say you didn’t know how to find the answer to anything – you go look it up!

This probably explains how I ended up going to law school where before the advent of digital research, we spent hundreds of hours scouring over journals and precedents. Today my reading tastes vary from cook books to autobiographies and science fiction.”

Travel is a passion she has grown to enjoy, and which gives her the opportunity to sample cuisines around the world, meet new people and experience new cultures. “I especially enjoy travel within the African continent where our history and heritage are truly rich and vibrant,” she says. Exploring new restaurants feeds her cooking passion and “guilty pleasure” of experimenting with new flavours.

“Good food need not be complex or high end … it’s the little things that make for a fantastic culinary experience: quality ingredients, technique, creativity, ambiance and value… and isn’t that a euphemism for life in general?”

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The Evolution Of Compliance In The Banking Sector

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Lindelwe Zwane, the Managing Executive: Compliance at Absa Corporate and Investment Banking says the role of compliance in the financial services sector has changed significantly over the years. Compliance has and continues to evolve to meet the ever increasing demands and complexity of financial regulation, she says.

“Compliance has to evolve from traditional methods of managing compliance towards integrated risk management using automation to leapfrog compliance from gatekeeper to game changer.

“To meet the demands of a rapidly changing financial services industry, the compliance function has to shift its focus by using data insights to inform decision making and creating value for the business,” she says.

READ MORE | People And Culture In The Workplace

She says there has been an increase in the use of robotics process automation and predictive analytics for risk assessment, monitoring and testing, complaints management, surveillance and regulatory reporting.  “This creates efficiency and saves costs in the long run,” Zwane says.

Zwane, who assumed her position in 2017 has a big task ahead of her.

“As the CIB Chief Compliance Officer, I am primarily responsible for overseeing the Compliance Programme for CIB globally to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and policies of the bank. I am also responsible for safeguarding the reputation of the bank and driving culture change within the organisation,” she explains.

READ MORE | The Laws Of Impactful Banking

A qualified lawyer with 18 years post qualification experience, Zwane has worked in various roles in the industry including as a Legal Manager at Deloitte and as Senior Legal Counsel for Deutsche Bank in South Africa. She joined Absa in 2015.

She describes her rise in the corporate world as a journey of self-discovery and reinventing herself through learning. “This has helped me shift my mind-set and opened up new growth opportunities and challenges,” says Zwane, who leads a team of 30 professionals in her division.

She agrees that finding a perfect balance between work, personal and family life is always important, and this she achieves by being 100% present.

“Wendy Tan in her book Wholeness in a Disruptive World (2017) says balancing is not a 50:50 compromise. Its 100:100 over time. We need to be, think and act whole to do our best at work. This means that work life balance does not have to be a zero sum game,” Zwane says.

She handles pressure by staying focused on the goals to be accomplished and asking for help if she needs it.

Scanning the future, Zwane says in the next five to 10 years, she would like to be in a role where she can continually deepen and diversify her skills to become an enterprise leader. What is her advice to young, upcoming women professionals?  “Lift as you rise. We need women to invest in women,” she says.

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People And Culture In The Workplace

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Corporates must make a deliberate effort to accelerate the development of women and appoint them to senior positions, says KG Bako, the Managing Executive: People and Culture, at Absa Corporate and Investment Bank. Bako says this will inspire young and up-coming women professionals to have people to look up to. She feels it is time there are more female chief executive officers and others in C-Suite positions.

“I am passionate about women empowerment so I always make sure I am fully hands on when it comes to these matters. I mentor and coach a number of young women professionals, both at CIB and externally. I believe sharing personal stories of our professional journeys does open one’s eyes and empowers them with tools to choose from when faced with challenges. I believe those of us who are in the top have to create a path for the young professionals,” Bako says. “Having someone as your voice in key decision making forums is key and we need to see more and more women being sponsored.”

READ MORE | The Evolution Of Compliance In The Banking Sector

She narrates her own experience rising up the corporate ladder, where she faced challenges with gender-based stereotypes, where there were perceptions one could not perform at a certain level simply because you were a woman. “So most of the time, you are finding yourself having to repeatedly proving yourself and working twice as hard as your male counterparts in order to gain recognition,” Bako says.

She believes your immediate supervisor can have a significant influence on your career growth, because they are the first point of reference when you face work challenges. But it is not always that easy, especially if you are a woman. Being told you are not ready for growth or new opportunity is one example, when you are denied growth opportunities deliberately, Bako says.

“When I engaged my boss at the time, I was very clear what I wanted; I had done a self-assessment, so I knew I was ready. When the response was no, not this year with no explanation, I had to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they don’t know or have all the information required for them to make an informed decision,” Bako continues.

“I decided to write a motivation with all the facts (no emotions) that led me to believe I was ready and that changed their perspective.”

Bako says one should take personal charge of their career growth as no-one is going to do it for you.  She says: “Surround yourself with people who will take you forward. Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new centre of gravity. As Oprah Winfrey said, don’t fight them; just find a new way to stand.”

Bako holds a degree in Social Sciences from Wits University and also a Master of Business Administration General degree from Henley Business School. She believes her career choice was natural because from a young age, she has always been caught between the love for numbers and people.

“The more I worked with people, the more it became clear where my passion was. When my plan of becoming a Clinical Psychologist was not realised there was no better place to nurture the love for both worlds than being a Head of People and Culture in an investment bank,” she says.

Bako admits many people struggle with striking a balance between work and family, particularly as they rise up the corporate ladder. She believes it requires understanding and concerted effort from all role players; from the employer and the culture within the organisation to family members involved.

READ MORE | The Laws Of Impactful Banking

“Firstly, the employer has to be deliberate about an inclusive culture they create to ensure women are able to have work life integration. Secondly, the culture you create at home has to align to your ambitions to excel professionally. The family set up has to support this, understanding there will be days when you have to put in long hours and someone has to take care of household chores,” Bako says.

“With technology these days, you don’t have to be physically in the office to do your work. Not only is the ease of accessing your emails, but you can join meetings using technology, again this speaks to the culture of the workplace. Once you have both worlds set up to enable your ambitions, the main role player is yourself,” she says.

Bako advises that one has to be clear about their plans and know who forms part of your support structure, at home, work or socially. She believes these structures become useful while you also find time to take care of yourself, mentally and physically.

“Make time for physical activities, whether it’s the gym or yoga class whichever works for you. We need to do a better job in putting ourselves first on our To Do list. It can sometimes be self-inflicted; we need to get our priorities in order and organise ourselves better,” says the mother of three daughters.

Her advice to young women is “If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you will be quickly and inaccurately be defined by others as Michelle Obama said.”

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